Garda members continued to cancel 999 calls despite controversy - Harris

Discipline investigations under way into those involved, Policing Authority told

 Garda Commissioner Drew Harris  said he ‘wished he had an insight’ into the motivations of those involved. Photograph: Alan Betson

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he ‘wished he had an insight’ into the motivations of those involved. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Emergency calls to the Garda’s 999 phone lines have continued to be cancelled, with no policing response, despite months of controversy over the practice. Discipline investigations were now under way into those involved, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

He was “shocked” Garda personnel would continue to cancel calls, saying 53 cancellations had come to the attention of senior Garda officers in the period since the controversy broke publicly about 10 months ago.

Policing Authority chairman, Bob Collins, said it was “completely incredible and an extraordinarily risky and grave matter” to continue cancelling 999 calls despite all of the controversy of recent months. It was also “wholly inappropriate and utterly dismissive” to discharge a serious responsibility to the public in that way.

Mr Harris said he “wished he had an insight” into the motivations of those involved. “In truth I don’t, I really don’t understand it,” he told a meeting of the Policing Authority on Thursday afternoon.

He was “shocked” Garda personnel had continued to “take a shortcut of their own volition” and cancel 999 calls, especially considering the disquiet about the practice since late last year. A significant programme of staff re-training, and changes to call and dispatch technology, had also been introduced in a bid to prevent 999 calls being cancelled.

It emerged late last year that thousands of calls had been cancelled since the start of 2019. In some cases no policing response was provided to people in rang 999 the crimes they were reporting were never recorded. However, the number of victims missed, and crimes not recorded, was very low, according to internal investigations to date. An independent inquiry in the practice was continuing.

“None of this has any benefit to them, yet it has exposed all of them to the peril of inquiry,” Mr Harris said of the Garda personnel who had continued to cancel calls. It created a risk that people who needed an emergency policing response, including domestic violence victims, would be ignored.

Mr Harris told Policing Authority chairman, Bob Collins, a member of Garda staff had spotted the continued cancellation of calls by colleagues acting of their own volition and had taken their concerns to a chief superintendent. He added almost all of the 53 recently cancelled calls related to alarms being triggered. He believed the calls would have been cancelled if they had been forwarded to supervisors in the manner they should have been, instead of staff taking it upon themselves to cancel the calls.

Mr Collins said it was “a strikingly, almost bizarre development”, especially when the calls looked so “mundane”.

“It is very difficult to get one’s head around it, including the risk that these individuals must have known they were taking by acting in such blatant departure from procedures that had been laid down,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Shawna Coxon, who is in charge of strategy, governance and performance across the Garda, told the authority that some Garda personnel who had cancelled calls over the last two years had cancelled significantly more than their colleagues.

Investigations were now beginning into those cancelled calls since the start of 2019 and a number of units and departments within the Garda had been “engaged” in that process. This included internal affairs, human resources, professional standards and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

There would now be a “tiered” system of investigations and so-called “outliers” - those who cancelled very large numbers of calls - would be dealt with first. However, the situation relating to so-called “outliers” was more complex that it may first appear, she said.

Up to five staff members may have been involved in the process of cancelling one call. That meant more must be learned about why the specific act of cancelling calls performed by some individual staff members far more frequently than others.